Billionaires around the world have about 24 hours left to submit initial bids for Chelsea FC, in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive—and fastest—major franchise sales in sports history.
The current European champions have been on the market for about two weeks, with seemingly every day producing another prospective buyer or an additional complication. Current owner Roman Abramovich recently had assets frozen by the U.K. government, but the sale has been allowed to proceed, with interested parties told to submit initial offers by the end of the week.
The truncated timeline hasn’t curtailed prospective bidders. The sale has drawn interest from dozens of parties, according to someone familiar with the process, including billionaires on all six inhabited continents.
They include hedge fund giant Ken Griffin, Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, the Saudi Media Company, British real estate tycoon Nick Candy, and notable sports investor Todd Boehly, whose portfolio includes minority stakes in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Lakers.
But there’s a big difference between showing interest and submitting a bid, and Friday’s deadline will go a long way toward determining both how real some of the big-name interest is, and how much the team might sell for. Sportico recently valued the club at $3.35 billion, but the scarcity of top-tier soccer clubs and the unusual nature of this specific process could drive that number significantly higher, or significantly lower.
A representative for the club declined to comment. A representative for the Raine Group, which is handling the sale, didn’t respond to request.
Abramovich, who was born in Russia, has owned the team since 2003. In that span Chelsea utilized his deep pockets to become one of the best clubs in Europe, winning five Premier League titles and a pair of Champions League crowns. The team currently loses more than $100 million per year, which many consider to be the cost of doing business at that level of global soccer. It also needs either a new or upgraded stadium, which could cost an additional $2 billion.
Adding to the unique circumstances, Abramovich has said he will forgive the roughly $2 billion (£1.5 billion) that he’s personally lent the team over the course of his ownership. He also said that he plans to donate the “net proceeds” to victims in Ukraine.
If Abramovich, who is currently worth $7.1 billion according to Forbes, doesn’t plan to profit from the sale, it may dramatically shift the way a winner is chosen. While there are many factors that determine a winner, price is one of the biggest. Without that constraint, Abramovich can prioritize something else, like the person he likes the most or the group he thinks will steward the club best moving forward.
Friday’s deadline should also provide some clarity on which interested parties are looking to buy the club solo and which are hoping to build a consortium of buyers. Rickets and Griffin are reportedly teaming up, as are Boehly and Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss. Former Chelsea striker Gianluca Vialli is working with Candy, while another consortium reportedly includes Sir Martin Broughton, former British Airways chairman; and Sebastian Coe, a British Olympian-turned-politician.